Leadership and the Humanities

Laughing at leaders (American politicians especially)

Thomas E. Cronin *

Keywords: leadership, leaders, humor, jokes, satire, politics, politicians, laughter, distrust, cynicism


People everywhere laugh at their political leaders, not only to vent their outrage at ineptness or corruption in government, but also to express a basic instinct for independence from authority. The way we laugh at our political leaders reveals both our humanness and our conflicting expectations for leadership. This essay examines how and why citizens laugh at their leaders (especially American politicians), and what this tells us about the challenges of political leadership.

The functions of political humor are analysed. The role of snark, or snide sarcasm, is described as a parallel culture to the life of politics and leadership. Rich political humor should leave us laughing, curious, and perhaps unsettled, yet not giving up on politics.

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